The Kolkata Knight Riders are now two-time T20 Cricket League Champions, joining the Chennai Superkings as the only team to win it twice. Less than a month ago, nobody would have given this team a chance, especially after they lost 5 of their first 7 games in the Dubai leg. But Shahrukh’s team stormed back in India, winning 9 in a row and piping CSK to second place, before defeating the Kings XI in the first qualifier, and again in the final.
The final of the league was fascinating, and was held on a ground that is traditionally a deathyard for bowlers. Nothing changed this time, and this was a final where KKR had to chase 200, similar to the 190 they had to chase two years ago against CSK in their first final.
Under pressure, after losing their in-form openers cheaply, it was down to the inexperienced youngsters to play some fearless cricket. Earlier in the evening, it was Wriddhiman Saha, backup keeper for Team India in Bangladesh and England, who played the innings of his life to become the only player to score a century in an IPL final. He blazed away after youngster Vohra gave his usual brisk start, and shockingly, the three foreigners Bailey, Maxwell and Miller scored a total of 2 runs between them, out of a total of 199.
Though KXIP ended on a high note after being 30/2 in the first 5 overs, 199 was still a par score on this ground, where Gayle had scored 175 alone in an innings last year, and where Rohit Sharma had scored 209 in an ODI late last year against the Aussies. So 200 was definitely gettable, especially against the humble Kings XI bowling attack, who had often conceded upto 12 an over in their final 5 overs. Apart from youngster Akshar Patel, nobody had been consistent.
This trend continued in the final, where Manish Pandey decided to take it upon himself to emulate Saha and continue this final of Underdogs/comebacks. A glorious 95 followed, and then a brainfade, where it was left to bowlers Chawla and Narine to guide them home.
The turning point of the match came when Johnson, after bowling a fine penultimate over, conceded a six off his last ball to Chawla. That brought the equation down to 5 off the last over, and with Chawla on a high, it was always going to be scored. Preity Zinta was heartbroken, and one felt for Sanjay Bangar – coach of the year – and his management, after living and dying by the sword in the final stages of a pulsating tournament.
The fact is that Glenn Maxwell failed them bigtime in the second half of the tournament, and went for a first-ball duck even on Sunday, when he had two overs to show his mettle and get them past 220. Saha instead did all the scoring and became a tragic centurion in a losing cause. He guided his team heroically, only to be let down by his bowlers – especially the experienced Balaji and Johnson. 199, as absurd as it sounds, was never enough to defend.
Eventually, KKR defied the odds and broke a million hearts. SRK fans were delighted of course, but even they would have liked to see the brave Punjab team rewarded for their brand of cricket through the tournament. Man to man, it was KKR that won after regrouping under Gambhir, who joins Dhoni as the only captain to win the IPL twice.
Who would have thought this before 2012, after KKR finished last in 2011 and second last in 2010? Promoting Uthappa to the top was a masterstroke, as well as dropping Kallis and other stars. Shakib had a role to play, as did Dutch star Ryan Ten Doeschate, and playing 3 spinners in the final turned out to be an inspired and gutsy decision – especially because one of them turned into a crucial late batsman to rescue his team from the jaws of choking defeat.
KKR defeated KXIP 3 out of 4 times in the tournament, and are deserving Champions after their captain began the league with 1 run in 4 innings. Much like his own resurrection, his team followed suite and now, they will head into the Champions League once again as IPL Champs.
Shahrukh Khan must be a happy man, and hopefully, this inspirational turnaround will motivate him to do the same as far as his acting career is concerned.